Jasters in Crystal Lake aims to expand palates
Named for the 100-year-old building it's located in, which was built by former Crystal Lake mayor John J. Jaster, Jasters Craft Beer and Winery opened in November 2013 and added a dining room in October. Dubbed Jasters Raw Bar & Bistro, the restaurant side offers a full menu that mixes approachable foods with dishes meant to open diners' minds.
Motif: The bar area features long candlelit wooden tables set between turquoise half booths and plush chairs. Brick walls, crystal chandeliers and a big booth in the corner give the space a speak-easy feel. TVs at the bar show sports with the sound off (except during playoff games) with mellow blues or classic rock playing in the background.
The dining area features an open kitchen, plush black leather chairs, tables set with flowers and a chalkboard showing the day's oyster specials. There's also a couch set with small tables perfect for groups to lounge at. Private parties can rent the whole space or just one section.
Food: The menu of small plates features flatbreads, oysters brought in fresh daily, sushi-quality tuna tartare and beef cheek sliders topped with crisp apple slaw and served on toasted pretzel rolls. The butcher plate is one of the most popular food options, a beautifully presented platter of your choice of four or eight meats and cheeses with varieties including aged salsa Asiago, wild boar sausage and fatty duck prosciutto.
Owner Adam Harjung describes Jasters as a "learning bar," where diners can expand their palates, and the menu is filled with accessible takes on dishes that can be polarizing. The richness of the beef bone marrow is cut with roasted garlic and a side salad of arugula, onions and capers. The Irish Car Bomb Cheesecake will also win converts, fluffy instead of dense and topped with Bailey's whipped cream, shaved chocolate and caramel. Even standards like the wedge salad get refreshed, with Jasters' version featuring a mild bleu cheese and candied bacon that makes it lighter than what you'd find on a steakhouse menu.
Liquid consumption: Craft beer is the star here, with a Midwest-focused draft list changing regularly to rotate in plenty of seasonal options from breweries including Milwaukee's Lakefront Brewery and Indiana's Three Floyds Brewing Co. The bar prides itself on acquiring rare brews like Goose Island Bourbon County Stout 2013. Flights of four tasting portions are available if you want to try a few new things.
You'll also find 16 different bottles of whiskey and Scotch prominently displayed behind the bar. Specialty cocktails, which incorporate fresh juices and spices, are also popular. Weekly drink deals include $5 drafts on Mondays and half-price bottles of wine on Wednesdays. The owners hope to eventually bring the food and drink menus together through oyster and beer pairings and whiskey dinners.
Crowd: The laid-back atmosphere means you'll find people in T-shirts at the bar and dressed-up couples having dinner. The space brings in all ages, though it gets younger as the night gets later. Fridays and Saturdays are the busiest nights, drawing locals for dinner.
Service: Our server was friendly and happy to make recommendations based on our drink preferences, showing a solid knowledge of the menu. Food came out quickly, but pacing left time for us to finish our courses. The owners are a constant presence, both waiting tables and just chatting with customers.
Parking: There's a free lot across the street and street parking nearby.
Overall: Dare yourself to try something new at Jasters.
Jasters Craft Beer and Winery414 W. Virginia St., Crystal Lake, (815) 526-3124
Hours: 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Monday through Thursday; 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday; 3 p.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday